Based on a true obsession
I started chewing on my cheek.
It’s a small quirk, and really, who can blame me? I fidget with every part of my body, run my hands through shaved hair, twirl pencils, jitter legs. I scratch my head and like hearing the sound through the bone. If I had antennae I would wash them like a moth in quiet moments. I sometimes fail to thread my needle because I like to run the bright embroidery thread across my lips.
So now I fidget with my cheek, run the soft stretchy stuff past teeth. I take little chunks and wiggle my jaw back and forth to feel skin sliding against skin. Sometimes I bite too hard and just swallow a little flap of skin.
I grew immune to nosebleed bloat growing up. I’d bleed until I’d pass out sometimes (true story). Once I started bleeding so hard in gym class that I couldn’t keep all the blood cupped in my two poor hands so I tilted my head back and let myself drink and it still went everywhere. My hands are a really shitty chalice. I tracked bloody footprints all the way to the nurse’s office. I turned back once to look and there was a hoard of housekeepers behind me spritzing each footstep with bleach like the saddest train of antiseptic ants.
Fun fact; my body’s started digesting my own intestines.
I can’t blame it. I’ve been swallowing bits of myself for so long that when I get hungry I feel myself rub my tongue against the back of my teeth like a lover. I’d so much rather my own company then more invaders in my body. I’ve swallowed steel pills and cameras and men’s hands.
I like knowing that what I’ve eaten was already warm, and already right where it belongs.
I dream some nights that I find myself in a meat packing plant. It smells like grey concrete and antiseptic. It’s the sort of place where your footsteps echo even when you’re not wearing shoes. There is a single, shining hook that hangs from a ceiling you can’t see when you look up and I’m in love, mouth open. The chain is thick and it also clangs like footsteps when I grab the steel point and in a single movement shove it up through that soft palette.
It feels like when you were in those screaming kindergarten classes, avoiding that kid who ate your smiley Walmart sticker then spit it up and gave it back to you when you began to cry. Like when you were hiding in the corner with the goldfish cracker crumbs on that terrible shag rug and then you would make a little ball of playdoh and impale it on your finger.
It felt like the hook was me and the playdoh was me and just a perfect yielding as you pull yourself off the floor and grab your knife- you always have a knife, you know that. So you grab your knife and start right between the eyes like a bled hog and just drag it straight down your body and peel the bone and muscle and fat like a zipper. I am so emaciated and there’s no blood I’m like a cocoon but I feel so awful nauseous full of intestine and nosebleed blood and too much of me and I drag the knife all the way down and I go limp and then
There I am, climbing out of myself and I am perfect.
When I wake up in the mornings to wash my face, I still see my husk there, hanging in the mirror.
Alison Gerhard is a researcher at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, currently pursuing her master's degree in chemistry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wordgathering, Breath and Shadow, and in the Solstice Shorts; Noon anthology, available from Arachne Press.